I would not write about this topic were I not convinced that a number of government agencies, hackers, and 12 year olds have already thought of this.
Today I was looking at the Mac App Store and saw a new featured program that automatically translates from one language to another. The program reportedly translates 80 languages into 80 languages. Since I do not know 80 (or even 2) languages I have no way of verifying this claim. Nor do I think that there is any problem with this app or others of the type. But the App Store stimulated me to think about something.
What if …
What if I an American security agency (NSA, CIA) wanted to slant American public opinion against the Arab World. It could (probably and extremely rapidly) change the translation dictionaries in a computer program to translate Arabic to English in a tone that subtly makes Arabic statements in public social media seem more aggressive and uncooperative than intended. Or conversely if I were an extremist organization that wished to slant opinion against the United States I might alter a translation dictionary to make English statements sound more negative or aggressive or dictatorial in Arabic. This can be done in any pair of languages in either direction.
I have looked for effective computerized translations to English (or more properly Americanish) for decades, primarily because I have no language skills (or abilities) but want to know what the writers in Arabic, Russian, Spanish, Hebrew, French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and other languages are saying on social media. I try to follow many tweeters in the Arab World because I think that Americans are fairly oblivious to the intellectual and medical advances made there as they also are to the peaceful political and religious views of virtually every practitioner of Islam or resident of an Arab country.
In the era of Twitter and numerous other social media services which are starting to provide automatic translations between languages, who tests to make sure that the auto translations do not intentionally or unintentionally slant public or scientific opinion. Obviously, those most dependent upon those translations are least able to judge this!
Anytime I read something that seems odd from a speaker of another language, I wonder if this is the result of an auto translation program unintentionally or intentionally trying to sway my opinion.
This is perhaps a compelling argument for visual thinking using minimal words.
[On the other hand, there is this Photoshop thing …]